EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. – It may end up being the key matchup in the first-ever playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. A stingy defence led by Drew Doughty against an explosive offence led by Hart Trophy nominee Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
"Hit and hope," is all Kings head coach Darryl Sutter would say on Friday when asked how his team can slow down the Ducks dynamic duo.
Luckily, Sutter's top defenceman was willing to go a bit more in-depth.
"I've played Getzlaf and Perry so many times," said Doughty. "I've played with them [most recently at the Sochi Olympics], I know exactly how they play. I study how they play. They're two of the hardest players to play in the league, no matter who is the third guy on that line. It's such a hard line to play against. But, like I said, I've studied how they play so many times that I know exactly what they're going to do and it just comes down to out-competing them, being a better player in every situation.
"It's going to be tough for me to do, but I have to do it."
Doughty, who averaged 26:31 of ice time per game during the first round win over the San Jose Sharks, will see a lot of Anaheim's top line along with his defence partner Jake Muzzin.
"Those two have been together for a long time," said Muzzin when asked about Getzlaf and Perry. "They have a lot of chemistry between each other and they kind of know where they're going to be on certain plays. So you have to be very clear on where they are on the ice and be very vocal with each other on defending that top line."
But the adjustment shouldn't be too tough for the Kings. Doughty is expecting a similar series to what his team experienced against the Sharks.
"They've got really good forwards, especially their top guys are really good like San Jose's," he said. "I think we can take advantage in some parts of the game with their defence, like we could with San Jose as well. I think Anaheim has maybe a little bit better of a goalie, so it'll be harder to get it past him. I think it's going to be the same type of game. They're going to get in on the forecheck. Their forecheck is a little bit different, but they actually come harder than San Jose, surprisingly. So we know they're going to create off that."
And Doughty warned against focusing too much on the Ducks' dynamic duo, who combined for 74 goals in the regular season (28 per cent of Anaheim's league-leading 263 goals).
"For most of the season it wasn't really Getzlaf and Perry, who dominated our team," explained Doughty, "it was kind of the third, fourth-line guys like [Nick] Bonino, [Andrew] Cogliano and [Patrick] Maroon and guys like that so we got to pay special attention to them to."
Getzlaf had one goal and one assist in the five regular season games against the Kings while Perry had two goals and two assists. Bonino had one goal and two assists, Cogliano had one goal, while Maroon had two goals in four games.
Doughty remembers the Ducks' secondary scoring being a key factor in the season series, which saw Anaheim win four of the five encounters, including an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium. But what stood out to Sutter during the regular-season showdowns?
"We played two really good games in their building," Sutter said, leaving it at that.
The teams split the two games at the Honda Center where the series will open on Saturday and where Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will have the advantage of last line change.
Sutter was in fine form on Friday in his meeting with the media, which lasted a little under three minutes with a good chunk of that being awkward silence following short answers. The first question to Sutter was: what's the biggest challenge your team will face in the second-round series?
"We're playing indoors," a deadpan Sutter stated. "We heard originally the whole series was going to be played at either the Angels' stadium or at the Dodgers'. So now we found out today that there's actually four in Honda and three at Staples [Center], so we've got a lot of work to do to get that figured out."
It's a little warm to play outside, a reporter retorted referencing the high of 35 degrees celsius in Orange County.
"It's supposed to cool off, though," Sutter responded, not missing a beat.
The Kings had no problem handling the heat against the Sharks as they became just the fourth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. And one player who has adapted well to the Hollywood spotlight is the 25-year-old Muzzin.
Muzzin has proven worthy of the top-pairing assignment during just his second trip to the NHL post-season. Last year, Muzzin picked up three assists in 17 playoff games while averaging 15:50 of ice time per game. This year, Muzzin already has two goals and three assists through seven games while averaging 18:26 of ice time.
"I think it's just probably a little bit more experience," Sutter said. "If you take last year's playoff where he was in and out of the lineup or didn't play that much, this year we've had to rely on him a little bit more to get him ready for playoffs and that's sort of just a continuation of that."
"Jake was only on for one goal against in the whole series [against San Jose], shows you how good he was playing," said Doughty. "We did well offensively too [combining for 12 points]. The good thing about me and Muzz is when a team's emphasis is so hard on the forecheck, our breakout ability is really good where one of us can do it on our own. We can talk to each other, help out and I think that is the strength of us. We don't spend a lot of time in our D-zone. And when we do, we're both physical, big guys who can pin a guy to have a loose puck and we can get it that way. We did really well in our D-zone, and that's why we were successful as a pair."
Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns were held to just one goal over the final four games of the series against the Kings thanks in large part to the work of Muzzin and Doughty.
"We were a lot better in our zone," said Muzzin when asked about the reversal in fortune in the series. "Getting pucks in and out, not giving them chances to create cycle opportunities and chances like that. [Jonathan Quick] made some big saves when called upon. But as a whole team, we definitely limited their chances by being quick in our zone and I think we had better gaps on the rush and better awareness on our changes and on the rush as well."
NOTES: Jeff Carter and Willie Mitchell (lower body) did not take part in Friday's practice at the team's facility in El Segundo. Sutter said it was an optional skate and Carter took the option after working out off the ice on Thursday. Carter did see his ice time dip in the final few games of the Sharks series, playing 13:07 in Game 6 and 14:06 in Game 7 ... Anze Kopitar on whether there's any difference between facing Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller: "No, I don't think it's going to matter too much, except for the left catch (Andersen) and the right catch (Hiller). That's the biggest difference." ... Forward lines at practice minus Carter: Gaborik-Kopitar-Brown; Pearson-Nolan-Toffoli; King-Stoll-Williams; Clifford-Richards-Nolan.